Newsflash: Election day is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3. New Jersey and Virginia are going to elect a new governor, and Maine is voting on the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, just to name a few important ballot issues. I ask my friends and co-workers here in the states if they’re voting tomorrow. Most just say, What? When’s that? What are we voting for? Either that, or a definitive, “No, I’m not voting, I hate politics, I never vote.” Never vote? One of the times we actually have a say as to how our government is run and you DON’T VOTE!? Let me tell you a story about living in a totalitarian government where some people don’t have the luxuries we do.

When I first arrived in Tunisia in the Spring of 2008, the other students and I didn’t know much about the small country. One of the first questions we asked our director was, “What type of government does Tunisia have?” His response, as was the response of most of our teachers or other official figures, was an over-emphatic, “Tunisia’s the greatest democracy ever! We’ve been a democracy since 1956 when we gained independence from France. We have 13 political parties, but everyone loves the president!” As evident by the 94.5% vote he got in 2004, and similar figures in other elections. Obviously everyone must vote for him! (Or their voting system is super corrupt, but no one would ever admit that while in the middle of a corrupt, Big Brother-esque government, sort of a Catch 22.) Also omitted was the fact that President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali amended the Tunisian Constitution multiple times so that he could run for more terms than originally allotted.

Ben Ali

Just one of many billboards of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali you will see traveling the roads of Tunisia.

In the most recent election a few weeks ago, Ben Ali won by 89.9% of the vote, and the U.S. is officially “concerned” by the results (minute 13). Who wouldn’t be concerned with a win that big? Also disconcerning is the fact that I felt like I was living in Orwell’s 1984 while over there. People were afraid to talk about the government, period, especially in a negative manner, and if they were bold enough to educate the American they would whisper about it, look at the sky warily, turn their cell phones off, etc. What was even more 1984-esque was huge billboards and banners in the middle of Tunis and on the sides of the roads, or just basically everywhere.

I asked my Tunisian friends if they voted, and most said no, there was no point. For one, there is no one particular opposition candidate. And even IF the government allowed an opposition candidate to heavily campaign, and IF there was a large voter turn-out and IF the opposition candidate actually did win, there are no independent voting organizations to tally the votes, so Ben Ali would most likely still officially win. Iran, anyone?

When people tell me they don’t vote, that they know they have the right to vote and they make a conscious effort not to go to the polls, that just ticks me off. Heck, in Jersey it’s super easy to vote by mail, absentee, just because you don’t feel like leaving the house. Or you can go to the county clerk’s office the day before the election. It’s so easy!

People in the US take their rights for granted, especially the most fundamental ones like freedom of expression, as I’ve mentioned before regarding the press. I’m not expecting everyone to be super politically involved, or even be kept extremely up-to-date with every single political issue that affects us as Americans and New Jersians. But read a few Star Ledger articles covering the election; they break it down for readers very easily. Be at least slightly informed and go out to the polls.

Maybe I’m asking a lot for people to actually care about their country, about how it’s run. Maybe it’s too much for me to ask people to not be lazy, ungrateful Americans. I’m not even asking people to like who they vote for, as both Christie and Corzine admittedly have their faults (although one more than the other, in my opinion). But even so, I’m asking people now, get up and go vote! Exercise your rights while you still have them.